Eye tracking provides method to valuate online ad space

Brain Intelligence Neuro-Consultancy used eye tracking in combination with EEG technology to shed light on how factors such as ad locations, format, size and presentation duration influence online marketing effectiveness.


Video portals in China, such as Youku.com and Tudou.com, are more than just YouTube clones. They are legitimate mass-market distribution channels for the entertainment industry. They license the rights to show the latest movies and TV dramas, which means that an increasing proportion of Chinese citizens spend their free time online rather than watching traditional television. So, how do you market to this type of audience online.

There are many forms of web advertising and hence innumerable variables that need to be taken into consideration to advertise effectively. Yet, how do we know whether web users look at any of these ads at all, and how do they actually influence consumer attitudes?

This is particularly critical since most advertising on online video sites in China is charged on a cost per thousand impressions (CPM) or pay per day basis.

The study was conducted on behalf of Tinghsin International Group, one of the largest food and beverage manufacturing companies in China and owner of the "Master Kong" (康师傅) brand.

Media buyers need to know what is the advertising value they’re buying, and eye tracking solutions from Tobii combined with EEG research can help answer that question.

Ruihong Tang, MD, Brain Intelligence Neuro-Consultancy

Eye tracking to examine factors that influence online marketing effectiveness

Which online advertising option provides the best value, i.e. which ad type gets how much and what kind of attention, as well as what kind of brain reaction, all in relation to the media investment?

To find an answer to this the study set out to examine:

  • Which online ad types are fixated on and which ones are fixated on the longest?
  • How does average fixation duration (and thus fixation quality) differ between different ad types?
  • Are there differences in brain response toward different ad types?

Combining EEG and eye tracking, we can discover which advertising options are most effective in attracting positive (EEG) attention (eye tracking) from users.

Ruihong Tang, MD, Brain Intelligence Neuro-Consultancy

Tools and methods

Data collection using Tobii Pro TX-300 and EEG.

30 respondents, gender ratio 1:1, were recruited for participation in the study.

Participants were asked to view a series of stimulus websites and complete a number of search tasks related to video sites.

During the experiment, eye tracking and EEG data was collected simultaneously using a Tobii Pro TX300 eye tracker and a Brain Products EEG. Each session lasted about 40 minutes.

Tobii Pro TX300 system enables us to link brain responses and emotional feedback to attention to particular marketing elements with high precision, producing reliable research results.

Ruihong Tang, MD, Brain Intelligence Neuro-Consultancy

Analysis of the eye tracking data

Tobii Pro Studio was used to analyze the eye tracking data and calculate fixation metrics for different online ad types, providing indicators of their effectiveness.

Fixation ratios for different ad types were then compared to their respective price ratios (taken from the video portal price lists) to evaluate the relative ROI for different ad types. Over- and under-valued options were identified, allowing researchers to determine which ads delivered the best value for the invested budget.

By plotting EEG data against eye tracking data, brain responses could then be linked to online ad types. Eye tracking thus helped explain the EEG data, and also contributed new insights into how visual attention duration and quality might influence emotional responses.

Results and conclusions

Different online advertising options yield different duration and quality of visual attention, as well as different brain responses— depending on their position, format, size and presentation duration.

Discrepancies between the effectiveness of different advertising options and their respective pricing indicated that some options are overvalued and some undervalued. The results allow researchers to recommend those online advertising options with the highest ROI for clients.

Researchers compared a pre-movie compulsory video advert (red area on Youku.com priced at CNY 150 per CPM) with a static background advert (blue areas on either side of the movie onTudou.com priced at CNY 60 per CPM). Surprisingly, it turns out that the blue static advert, which consumers view only voluntarily, drew the same level of attention as the pre-movie advert, which was compulsory to watch in order to be able to watch the movie. However, there is a large price disparity between these two advertising options. In sum, the blue static background advert is just as effective as the red pre-movie video advert, yet it is less expensive and hence represents better ROI value.

Video ads from the Brain Intelligence study.

Surprisingly, the EEG research also showed that more attention toward an ad is not always beneficial. Less, but voluntary, attention may actually result in a more positive brain response toward the ad and may thus have a better impact on consumer (conscious or subconscious) attitude toward the advertised product or brand.

To elaborate, this last point goes back to the question of whether or not the advertiser should really force the viewer to watch their advertisement (e.g. a pre video) or give them a choice. The results suggested that they should not, particularly since some ad spaces that were only displayed in the background (i.e. viewers choose to look at them or not) did just as well or even better when attracting the attention of participants. And this was voluntary attention, which makes the case even more compelling.

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